The stage is set for Blackfriars to make Adelaide Fringe history.
For the first time in the festival’s 63-year history, Blackfriars’ James O’Doherty Theatre will next month become a Fringe venue when it hosts two shows of SAST.
It’s an exciting time for Blackfriars’ Drama Department, led by teacher Bob Becker, particularly after the school’s 2022 Fringe show, also due to be performed in the James O’Doherty Theatre, was cancelled due to covid restrictions.
“I’m thrilled to be able to present SAST as part of the Adelaide Fringe,” says Mr Becker, the play’s writer and director.
“It is a fabulous show and, in particular, should interest those who want to learn more about the multicultural make up of that first group of Anzacs that landed in Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.”
The play tells the story of Odesa-born Alexander Sast, who arrived in Port Adelaide in 1912, and, just a few years later, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
“He became one of the first Australian soldiers to land in Gallipoli April 25, 1915,” Mr Becker says.
Sast was wounded on the second day of the Gallipoli campaign but, five weeks later, was sent back to the peninsula. He was eventually captured, and tortured, by Turkish soldiers.
He ended up in the Rustchuk prisoner camp in northeastern Bulgaria, from which he escaped in 1916. That flight to freedom made him the only Australian soldier to escape a Turkish war prison in Bulgaria.
The play also “takes the audience to the tumultuous times leading up to the collapse of the Russian Empire”.
“To give the play a contextual backdrop, the story of the Ukrainian journalist Gregor Piddubny is introduced into the narrative,” says Mr Becker, who is Ukrainian.
“Like Sast, Gregor also arrived in Australia in 1912, where he lived until 1916.
“Even though Alexander Sast and Gregor Piddubny both arrived in Australia in 1912, they most probably would never have met each other. So, this play is an imagining of what would have happened if they did meet during two crucial moments in their lives – World War I Brisbane and pre-revolution Kyiv.”
The play asks some big questions.
“Ultimately, this play is about identity,” Mr Becker says. “Is Australia ready to call the Odesa-born Sast, the legendary Anzac who fought in Gallipoli and the Western Front, an Australian icon?”
South Australian Screen Award original movie soundtrack winner, and former Blackfriars’ head of music, Charli Holoubek has created a soundscape that draws on Turkish, Bulgarian and Ukrainian influences.
SAST is part of the wider Prospect Fringe, with more than 25 shows and events, including live music, comedy and cabaret, all in the heart of Prospect.
“The City of Prospect and the community have always been huge supporters of arts, culture and events and this program is our way to bring a piece of the proverbial Fringe pie to the neighbourhood,” the council says.
SAST, James O’Doherty Theatre, Blackfriars Priory School, 1-2 March, 7pm. Tickets available here.